San Diego’s pension scandal exploded as a political issue. It made San Diego a darling of the national press for all the wrong reasons. It forced a bureaucratic and political upheaval, forcing a once-popular mayor to resign in disgrace. It cost San Diego untold millions of dollars in investigators, lawyers and pension bills.

One thing the pension scandal hasn’t done, however, is enjoy much of any success in the courtroom.

A federal judge dismissed fraud charges against all five former San Diego pension officials, saying the charges were too vague, the Union-Tribune is reporting.

From the story:

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s 28-page ruling concluded that the federal honest services fraud law “failed to give these defendants fair warning that their conduct could violate the federal mail and wire fraud statutes.”

Laws that are determined to be so vague that people would not be expected to know if they were breaking them violate due process protections under the constitution.

We explained earlier this year the vagaries of the honest services wire fraud law — it’s based in the believe that public officials cannot deprive residents of the right to honest services — and how it had made it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unless an appeals courts step in, the today’s ruling destroys nearly all that was left of the three main legal actions that sprung out of the pension scandal. The state Supreme Court threw out charges against five of the six defendants in the district attorney’s similar but separate prosecution in January. And former City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s ambitious attempts to roll back employee benefits also fell flat.

Now, with the federal case in shambles, it’s probably time to update this headline from our 2006 story: Pensions, a Political Firestorm, Flicker as Legal Issue.

Ironically, I and many others were surprised at the time that prosecutors didn’t bring charges against more people in the pension scandal. But even the cases they did bring didn’t hold up in court.


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